The Democrats: a Crossroads for American Jews

With its relatively small population more or less concentrated in a few electorally crucial states, the American Jewish community is an important voting bloc in the upcoming elections.

In states such as California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, Jewish voters will help decide the balance of power in both the House of Representatives and the Senate — and, of course, our next president.

Whether Jewish voters take a traditional view of Jewish issues or an expansive “tikkun olam” outlook, the issues at play in this election should ensure a large Jewish turnout.

At stake are both fundamental constitutional principles — such as separation of church and state and reproductive rights — and basic concerns such as education, crime, foreign policy, the economy, health care and the environment.

On all of these issues, Democrats are the better choice.

Democratic candidates from President Clinton on down oppose Republican efforts to amend the constitution and allow prayer in our public schools. Democrats also oppose the GOP school voucher plan — a plan that would provide at taxpayer’s expense money for private education, including religious schools.

These initiatives that threaten to tear down the wall separating church and state demonstrate the stranglehold of the radical right on the Republican Party.

Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed and Pat Buchanan tap the drumbeat to which even GOP moderates, those few that remain, must march. The allegiance of the radical right to the so-called “family values” agenda is not out of concern for the health, education and welfare of America’s families. Rather, the Christian Coalition and its ultraconservative followers seek a government-sponsored morality police as a way of imposing their brand of religion on our country.

Many of the Republican freshmen members of Congress elected in 1994 are committed to this far-right agenda and are its foot soldiers. For instance, Rep. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma wrote, “This nation must stand for or against Christ. The Bible clearly tells us that it is impossible to stand in the middle.”

Rep. Andrea Seastrand from California said Americans had been “hoodwinked” into believing that the separation of church and state was constitutionally mandated. Then there’s Texas Congressman Steve Stockman, who required his taxpayer-funded staff to recite morning prayers during staff meetings and who sponsored a fund-raiser for the police officers convicted in the 1991 Rodney King beating.

These members of Congress are not a fringe element in the GOP. House Speaker Newt Gingrich personally promised the Christian Coalition a vote on a school- prayer bill. The only reason Gingrich’s promise went unfulfilled is because Republicans could not agree whether to demand an an extreme or even more extreme bill. But fear not: The 1996 GOP platform calls for a constitutional amendment to overturn the existing ban on organized prayer in school.

And Republican presidential hopeful Bob Dole, who boasts he has supported school prayer since 1967, has repeatedly touted his plan to federally subsidize private religious schools through vouchers.

While the GOP, stirred by its most radical elements, has focused on pressing a repressive religious agenda, the Clinton-Gore administration and Democrats in Congress fought to preserve our fundamental liberties. As New York Democratic Congressman Charles Schumer said, the recently adjourned 104th Congress will be remembered more for what Democrats prevented the Republicans from doing than for what the Republican majority actually accomplished.

GOP initiatives to outlaw abortion and repeal the ban on assault weapons were rebuffed. Democrats also succeeded in derailing GOP attempts to eliminate the Department of Education and cripple the Environmental Protection Agency. President Clinton vetoed Republican legislation to cut Medicare, and together with congressional Democrats, killed legislation to bar children of illegal immigrants from attending public schools.

In the foreign policy arena, President Clinton has demonstrated diplomatic resolve while judiciously sending U.S. armed forces into trouble spots abroad. Clinton dispatched U.S. forces to serve as peacekeepers in Bosnia, a move that helped to put an end to years of war in that region. Clinton also moved resolutely to intervene in Haiti, where democracy has since been revived and the island no longer threatens to explode.

In the Middle East, President Clinton has proven to be Israel’s best friend ever to occupy the White House. He has staunchly supported continued aid to Israel at $3 billion annually, and he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel during the Hamas bombings. Just as importantly, President Clinton has dramatically departed from the previous Republican administration’s public campaign to pressure Israel.

Clinton, no less committed to the peace process after the election of the Likud government than he was during the Labor government, is dedicated to working with — not against — the elected government of Israel to bring peace and security to the region.

By contrast, Bob Dole’s record on Israel is suspect. He called for a cut in aid to Israel, supported U.S. arms sales to Israel’s enemies, called American Jewish leaders “greedy” for supporting aid to Israel and sought to allow Syria to receive American assistance. During the height of the intifada, Dole compared Israeli soldiers with El Salvadoran death squads. Even Jack Kemp and Newt Gingrich criticized Dole for what Kemp coined Dole’s “blame-Israel-first” attitude.

The challenges we face are daunting. Ironically, the choice is easy. The 1996 elections are a gateway to the next century. At the same time, our country is at a political crossroads: We can allow the right wing to take America backward, to the days of back-alley abortions, forced school prayer and the diminution of the rights of minorities. Or, we can stick to our principles and reward the leaders who vote to protect our rights, want to take America forward and are committed to close U.S.-Israel relations.

Fundamentally, this election is a test of two different philosophies on the role of government. Democrats believe that government has a role in our society: to protect the unprotected, to defend the rights of minorities, to promote the public interest and to guarantee the general welfare of all citizens.

Republicans vilify public servants and our public institutions, want reduced government and view government not as a tool to improve our lives, but an impediment to improved lives. For our community and for our country, Democrats are the right choice.

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